There are many things to love about being pregnant. The wonder of your body changing. The feeling of a baby growing inside you. The excitement as you prepare for a new baby to join your family. But it’s not always sunshine and lollipops. One of the not so pleasant side effects of growing a baby is haemorrhoids.
What are haemorrhoids?
Haemorrhoids, or ‘piles’ as they are commonly referred to, occur when the veins between your rectum and your anus become swollen. These varicose veins may range in size between a pea bump to as big as the size of a grape. You may be able to feel them hanging down after you’ve done a poo and they may be painful.
What are the causes?
For most pregnant women, haemorrhoids will start showing up in the 4th or 5th month although there are those who only develop it after or during delivery, from all the pushing while in labour.
While you’re pregnant, your growing baby puts a whole lot of pressure on your pelvic veins including the inferior vena cava, the blood vessel responsible for receiving blood from the lower limbs.
One other culprit for haemorrhoids includes constipation. Pregnant women are often prescribed with iron which, if not supplemented with enough water can cause constipation. Additionally, a rise in progesterone levels in your body during pregnancy makes the walls of your blood vessels relax causing swelling. In turn, you feel constipated because progesterone slows down your intestinal tract.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include soreness and inflammation around the anus, itching and a burning sensation around the bottom, feeling like you still need to go the toilet after you have emptied your bowels and in worst cases, bright red rectal bleeding which you may see when you wipe your bottom.
How are they diagnosed?
A physical look will already give you the diagnosis of haemorrhoids but in cases where internal haemorrhoids need to be ruled out, your doctor will perform a check on your perianal skin, a digital rectal examination and an anoscopy or colonoscopy. These procedures use probes to validate and check the inner part of the gastrointestinal tract, the anus and the colons to make sure that the signs and symptoms are not because of any disease.
What can I do?
Prevention is the first line of defence! Your best chance is to avoid constipation by eating a high-fibre diet and drinking between six and eight glasses of water every day. Regular mild to moderate exercise is important and so is listening to your body. Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need to avoid your stools becoming harder and drier.
It is also essential to move about when you’re pregnant. This is because you want to take the pressure off the blood vessels in your rectal area and to help increase blood flow from your lower limbs to the upper body. If you need to relieve yourself of the discomfort and pain of your haemorrhoids, you can use cold compresses or some people find relief from alternately using cold and warm compresses. Others also take time to relax in a warm bath.
Thankfully, most haemorrhoids will resolve themselves after your baby is born but these treatments may help alleviate the symptoms.